As MLR Season Ends, SaberCats Stay Busy

By Terrance Turner

As the Major League Rugby (MLR) season draws to a close, a number of important developments are underway. From roster changes to alumni victories to surprising retirements, the Houston SaberCats are making moves (and headlines) around the country.

Former SaberCat Marvin “Joey” Iosefa celebrated a career highlight this past weekend. The Seattle Seawolves won their second consecutive MLR championship on Sunday, beating the San Diego Legion 26-23 at the University of San Diego’s Torero Stadium.  (Iosefa, who joined the team in March, watched from the stands during the match.) According to the Seattle Times, the Legion were up 23-19 in the final two minutes of the game. But Seawolves forward Brad Tucker scored a game-winning try in the eightieth and final minute, with the team helping push him past the goal line. The last-minute win stunned both Seawolves fans and the rival Legion.

The Seawolves rejoiced (see below), and Iosefa shared footage of the ensuing celebration via Instagram Stories. In one clip, he and his teammates jump for joy during an exultant team chant. In another, the Seawolves emotionally embrace while one carries the MLR title card. They had good reason to celebrate: according to ESPN, the Seawolves remain Major League Rugby’s only champions to date. (In 2018, they beat the Glendale Raptors to win MLR’s inaugural title.)

Yesterday afternoon, a press release on the SaberCats’ website announced the arrival of a new president: JT Onyett. “JT joins the SaberCats from the Texas AirHogs Baseball organization, where he was President and General Manager with oversight responsibility for all business areas including sales, marketing, finance and facility operations,” the release read. Prior to his position with the AirHogs, Onyett was Assistant General Manager of the Sugar Land Skeeters, a baseball team based in Sugar Land, from 2013 to 2016.

Onyett replaces former president Brian Colona, who joined the organization in January 2018. “Having never seen a minute of rugby in my life until the first SaberCats’ exhibition match, I clearly did not qualify as a ‘Rugby Guy’ but all it took was that first match at Constellation Field to tell me that this sport has a future in Houston. I knew then that I wanted to play a part in making it happen,” Colona said in a statement. “My time with the Cats has been exhilarating and I’m proud to have been part of getting the team off-the-ground and providing the team and its supporters a beautiful, permanent home – the new AVEVA Stadium.”

In addition to the new president, the SaberCats must also name a team captain. On June 1st, captain Matt Trouville made a stunning announcement. “Well, today’s the day. This is going to be my last game of rugby ever, against Utah,” he said. “I just want to quickly send a message out to everyone who’s been a part of my journey, no matter how big [or] small; no matter how short or brief our time was, you’ve all been a part of it. So I want to thank you so much, because I’m so happy to have played the game, and rugby’s taught me so much. So without you and everyone else who’s helped me along the way, this couldn’t have been possible.”

Trouville thanked all the teams he’s played for — “even all the way back to Barnaby Dolphins, my junior club, Southern Districts, Seattle Saracens, USA Rugby, and of course, most recently the Houston SaberCats. I just can’t be more grateful that the journey I’ve had, and you’re all a part of it.” He continued: “Thanks to my wife Mona for being a huge support for me, especially in these later years when it’s gotten harder and harder to play, my family throughout my whole life, and… yeah.” The video cut off after one minute, marking a stunning end to a long career.

Trouville, who was born in Sydney, Australia, began playing rugby during his childhood: “I was 5 years old,” he recalled in an interview with Internet sports site The Garage Apartment.  Did he play other sports? “Yeah, I mean, anything to get me out of class. I was playing cricket, which is our version of baseball, and just as boring. I played AFL, soccer, I was doing track, swimming… I wasn’t good at any of them, but I was doing it just to get out of class. Now, rugby has always been my favorite sport, but yeah. I mean, I’m Australian, too. Australian culture is a very active culture, so everyone generally plays everything.”

Trouville will remain the director of the SaberCats Rugby Academy, which aims to train the next generation of rugby players. This summer, the Academy is hosting non-contact camps for both boys and girls (ages 9-14). Youth will be coached by SaberCats players and by experienced coaches from around the world, according to the Houston SaberCats website. Areas of focus will include catching, passing, kicking, strength and conditioning.

The camps will begin at Aveva Stadium tomorrow, June 19th, and run until the 21st. The camps, which cost $200, will run from 10 am until 2 pm. Three more camps — two in Houston, one in Katy — will take place between now and July 17th. For further information, visit the SaberCats’ website at https://www.houstonsabercats.com/academy.

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